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Unplug Your Brain

With all the talk about computers, it's easy to forget that most Americans still spend much of their time soaking up corporate messages in front of the tube

Tom Hayden once said to me that television "is the biggest subject in the world that we have stopped talking about." He's right, because TV is the most efficient medium ever invented for cloning corporate consciousness.

Let me give you a sense of its scale and impact by repeating some astounding statistics from the United States. Similar patterns can be found all over the world. In the US, 99.5 percent of all homes have television sets, and 95 percent of the population watches television every day. The average home has a TV set going more than 8 hours per day, even if no one is watching. The average adult viewer watches TV more than four hours a day. The average child aged 8 to 13 watches about four hours per day. At age two to four, they watch almost three hours.

In the US, television is the main thing people do. It's replaced community life, family life, culture. It has replaced the environment. In fact, it has become the environment that people interact with every day. It has become the culture, too-and I'm not talking about so-called popular culture, which sounds, somehow, democratic. This expresses corporate culture, and damned few corporations at that.

Ours is the first generation to have essentially moved its life inside media; to have replaced direct contact with people and nature with simulated, edited, recreated versions. Television is the original "virtual reality."

This situation is really weird. It's almost sci-fi in its feeling and in its possibility for autocratic control-the few speaking to the many. If you were an anthropologist from the Andromeda Galaxy sent to study Earth people and you hovered over the US, chances are you'd report back something like this: "They're sitting night after night in dark rooms. They're staring at a light. Their eyes are not moving. They're not thinking. Their brains are in a passive/receptive state; we've measured them as 'alpha' waves (which, by the way, heavy viewers get into), and nonstop imagery is pouring into their brains-images coming from someplace they're not, thousands of miles away. These images are being sent by a very small number of people, and the images are of toothpaste and cars and guns and people running around in bathing suits. The whole thing looks like some kind of weird experiment in mind control." And that is exactly what it is.

In the US, the average television viewer is seeing about 23,000 commercials every year. The specific content of those messages may vary, but the intent is identical-to get people to view life as a nonstop stream of commodity satisfactions. Buy something! Do something! Commodities are life! And this message is the same everywhere.

Even in places on Earth where there are no roads-tiny tropical islands, icy tundras of the north, or log cabins-people are sitting, night after night. They're seeing "Baywatch," the most popular show in the world. Life in Texas, California, and New York is made to seem the ultimate in life's achievements, while local culture-even where it's still extremely vibrant and alive, as it is for a fair number of people-is made to seem backward, unworthy.

The net result is that a handful of media billionaires in New York, Hollywood, London, and one or two other places are implanting the brains of the entire global population with fantastically concentrated and nonstop doses of highly powerful images that tell them to hate where they live, worship McDonald's and Coca-Cola, and believe that corporations are the answer to their problems. Why are we not on the street about that? Why are we not in front of Disney? Why are we not in front of Time Warner?


Jerry Mander is president of the International Forum on Globalization, senior fellow at Public Media Center, and author of Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television and In the Absence of the Sacred.

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